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Five Things To Know About the May 11 End of the COVID-19 National Emergency

February 3, 2023

The Biden Administration is lifting the national COVID-19 emergency on May 11. Here’s what you need to know about the move.

1. The number of weekly deaths from the disease in the U.S. doubled from November 30, from 1,815 to 4,360 on January 11 and 3,486 on February 1, and remain high. COVID-19 is still very much with us, even if the administration’s decision to lift the emergency footing was the right call as we move into the next phase of the pandemic, and we have a lot of tools in our toolbox to deal with the virus.

2. People once again are flocking to restaurants, airports, and sports events, and it all seems so normal. But it’s not. Despite the tools, COVID-19 cost over 250,000 lives last year and more than 34,000 so far this year, making it a top five cause of death.

3. We know what we want to avoid—lockdowns—but what should we do? A recent study Abt worked on published in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Emerging Infectious Disease Journal shows the benefits of mask wearing and vaccination as protection against reinfection. Masking will likely continue to be an important measure. The study also showed racial disparities persist, and the public health community must address them. For example, we have treatments that doctors may not use as often as they should for people of color.

4. Researchers have produced reams of data on COVID-19, but we still have many unanswered questions about COVID-19 and respiratory infections more broadly. For example, what level of indoor air quality will mitigate virus transmission? What is the most cost-efficient way to improve indoor air quality? Who should pay for any needed retrofitting of older buildings? How much would it cost? Do we need to get annual vaccine boosters like we do for influenza? How should we ensure the safety of the most vulnerable: older Americans and the immunosuppressed? Under a CDC contract, Abt is establishing a network of nursing homes across the U.S. to answer important questions about SARS-CoV-2 in this vulnerable population. One study will involve repeated antigen and PCR testing along with genotyping and viral culturing to see what positivity looks like over time. Pre-positioned research teams can conduct rapid-response data collection on SARS-CoV-2 variants and other emerging infectious diseases. As the huge Baby Boomer generation ages, we need a much better understanding of vulnerable populations like older Americans.

5. The end of the emergency has numerous consequences. People may heave a greater collective sigh of relief than they should. Free COVID-19 tests and treatment may end. So may extended Medicaid benefits. People are tired and want to move on. However, at least for the near-term, COVID-19 will continue to take a substantial toll in illnesses, loss of work, and ultimately loss of loved ones. That’s why we must remain vigilant so that we can prevent an emergency from emerging again.

Updated March 30, 2023

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